Welcome to the Running Back Opportunity Report. The goal of this series is to go beyond raw carries, targets and yardage stats to look at the true opportunity each running back had to score fantasy points each week, and what they did with it.
Methodology and Acronyms
Check out the introductory article for a full breakdown.
There are two acronyms you’ll need to know for this series: EP and FPOE.
EP = Expected Points. EP is the difference between getting a carry at the your own 10 versus your opponent’s 10. Your 10, low EP. Your opponents 10, high EP.
FPOE = Fantasy Points Over Expectation. This is a player’s performance against EP. A TD from your own 10 yard line is worth more FPOE than from your opponent’s 10 yard line–and not because of the associated yardage–the TD itself is more valuable because it was much less likely to occur from such a great distance.
One Final note is that the FPs listed in the App and in this article are in PPR scoring.
Top 7 Takeaways from Week 10
1 – The Eagles’ Opportunity
One thing I probably haven’t spent enough time on this season it just how much opportunity there is in the Eagles backfield. Last week the Eagles produced a ridiculous RB workload of 41.6 EP, the highest team total of the season. And on the season the Eagles are producing 28.9 RB EP per game. To put that in perspective, the difference in RB EP between the first place Eagles and second place Saints is greater than the difference between the Saints and the 15th place Cowboys. With Ryan Mathews likely out with a concussion, DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles should be in line for a huge workload in Week 11.
Despite accounting for just 52 percent of the Eagles RB workload this season – which is a lower market share than Ronnie Hillman, and barely more than James Starks – Murray is fourth in the NFL in combined EP per game at 14.9. If Murray can grab a Jonathan Stewert-esque 65 percent market share of the Eagles’ RB workload this week, that should put him at or above where Devonta Freeman has been for the season. Murray hasn’t been particularly efficient this season, but just to put his potentially Freeman-esque workload in perspective, Freeman is averaging more EP per game this season than LaDainian Tomlinson did during his 31 TD campaign. When a RB is in line for this much opportunity, don’t get hung up on past inefficiency. Case in point: Devonta Freeman.
Similarly Sproles has seen the 34th most opportunity this season despite seeing less market share than Toby Gerhart. If Sproles can get to Chris Thompson market share levels of 35 percent, he could be a low end RB2 this week even if Murray finishes as a high end RB1.
At just $6,000 Murray will be my Draft Kings Play of the Week, and Sproles is another excellent play at near minimum salary of $3,400.
2 – Doubling Down on Lamar Miller
You know what can ruin a 20 plus point day from your fantasy RB? How about his backup putting up more yards on 10 fewer carries, at an 8.1 YPC clip?
Prior to last week, despite indications that Jay Ajayi would see more work, I wasn’t worried about Miller’s production. So how do I feel after Lamar Miller averaged 2.7 YPC while Ajayi averaged 8.1–a discrepancy so obvious that Dan Campbell felt the need to confirm that Lamar Miller was still the lead back? Honestly, I’m still not worried.
First of all Ajayi didn’t really see any more work than the week before. Technically he did see one additional carry, but his workload from an Expected Points standpoint was exactly where it was in Week 9: 2.2 rushing EP and 0.0 receiving EP. Miller meanwhile finished with 18.7 combined rushing/receiving EP, the third highest total of the week. Miller also dominated opportunity, finishing with 84 percent of combined EP, the sixth highest total of the week. In fact Ajayi’s first two games have coincided with Miller’s two highest workloads of the season. Over the last two weeks Miller is second in EP per game and fifth in market share of EP.
So it’s clear that Ajayi hasn’t actually eaten into Miller’s workload as of yet, but some are concerned he may begin doing so. But keep in mind that while Ajayi’s efficiency has been impressive, Miller has more than earned his lead back duties. Through Week 10 Miller in second in the NFL with 57.9 Fantasy Points Over Expected, performing excellently as both a rusher (fourth in FPOE) and a receiver (third in FPOE). On a FPOE per opportunity basis Miller’s 0.40 comes in just below Ajayi’s 0.41, but Miller has been performing at that rate over a 145 opportunity sample, compared to only 11 opportunities for Ajayi. The bottom line is that if anyone is poised to hold off a highly efficient rookie, it’s an even more efficient veteran.
Ajayi may cap Miller’s upside somewhat, in the sense that Miller won’t be handling 25 touches per game. But he’s never been that type of back anyway. And frankly, the dude just put up over 20 points against the best rushing defense in the league. How much more upside do you need? If you have Miller, hold on tight–though a handcuff price check on Ajayi wouldn’t hurt–and if you don’t own Miller I’d be putting out offers this week. If Ajayi’s emergence provides any kind of discount on Miller, I’m taking it.
3 – Holding Steady with DeAngelo Williams and Darren McFadden
DeAngelo Williams and Darren McFadden are another pair of RBs I’m either holding or buying. Despite each RB scoring less than 10 PPR points last week, Williams’ 93 percent market share of combined EP led the week, and McFadden’s 91 percent was second.
This type of market share is right in line with recent usage. Over the four weeks that Williams has been the Steelers starting RB, he’s led the NFL in market share of combined EP and is fifth in EP per game. McFadden meanwhile, leads the NFL in market share of combined EP since he became the unquestioned starter during the Week 6 bye, and is seventh in EP per game over the same stretch.
So we have two workhorses who under-performed in Week 10. Usually the culprit there is efficiency, and that was certainly part of the problem, as both RBs produced negative FPOE this week. But the larger issue was that their rushing offenses never got going on Sunday. Dallas, averaging 22.3 EP for RBs through Week 9, produced just 12.7 combined EP for the backfield in Week 10. The drop-off was nearly as steep in Pittsburgh, with the Steelers dropping from 19.3 to 10.6 EP. Williams and McFadden left a point or two on the table, but their team situations cost them nearly 10 points each in Week 10.
For McFadden the outlook is rosy. He should see much more efficient QB play for remainder of the season with Tony Romo set to return in Week 11. And after facing the second hardest RB schedule over the last three weeks, he now faces the third easiest over the next three. McFadden was a buy for me last week, and if anything he’s a stronger buy after another opportunity dominating performance and some positive signs for the offense moving forward.
For Williams, I’m willing to chalk up Week 10 to randomness. While it’s certainly disappointing that Pittsburgh couldn’t take advantage of a weak Browns rush defense, it was only because they were too busy taking advantage of their weak pass defense instead. Going forward, Williams’ schedule is not as advantageous as McFadden’s but he’s still a buy, even at back-end RB1 prices, based on his elite workload.
4 – Honorable Mention for Charcandrick West
I always end this article by covering the most efficient RB performances of week, but this week I want to highlight a RB who just missed the cut: Charcandrick West. West had an excellent game against the Broncos on Sunday, producing 2.9 rushing FPOE and 11.7 receiving FPOE for 14.7 combined FPOE, the third highest total of the week.
This efficiency is a great sign for West, because prior to Week 10, he’d really been a product of volume. While West leads all RBs in combined EP over the last four weeks, prior to Week 9 he’d produced negative FPOE on the season and was the sixth least efficient RB in the NFL with at least 50 opportunities. The good news for West isn’t just that he was efficient in Week 10, it’s that he was efficient and maintained his huge workload–seeing 16.4 combined EP, the fifth highest total of the week.
5 – TJ Yeldon is a Dynasty Buy
I’ve been holding down the TJ Yeldon corner here at RotoViz since May. Here’s what I said I about Yeldon then:
I was fairly low on Yeldon pre-draft, but–even in dynasty–production is what I care about most from the RB position. Yeldon is a big SEC back who’s being handed a three down role. Even if you’re not a fan, you should be able to turn a profit fairly quickly from his mid-1st round cost.
That’s what I thought then and that’s exactly what I think now, which either makes me prescient or obstinate.1 But now that we’re 10 weeks into the season, allow me to build on my previous argument to show you why you should still be buying Yeldon.
Yeldon is a highly drafted, big, SEC RB who came into the league at 21 years old and has put up 71 percent market share of rushing EP, and 70 percent market share of receiving EP. That market share puts him in exclusive company. Here’s the list of RBs with at least 65 percent of both rushing and receiving EP this season: Devonta Freeman, Matt Forte, Le’Veon Bell, Frank Gore, TJ Yeldon, LeSean McCoy and Lamar Miller.2 Each of those RBs have one or more red flags for their dynasty value: exorbitant price, major injury, age, impending free agency, backup pressing for touches, and/or inefficiency. Of these RBs, Yeldon is arguably the best buy for 2016 as a fairly cheap workhorse with major upside as a high pedigree sophomore. And Yeldon’s only red flag is inefficiency–though it’s a legitimate red flag. He’s currently less efficient than 2015 Justin Forsett and Frank Gore.
But as red flags go, inefficiency isn’t so bad. First of all targeting inefficient rookies would have netted you Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman the last two years.3 But secondly, efficiency tends to be reflected in the price of young players, as owners use it to quickly determine the quality of the rookie class. Yeldon’s current inefficiency provides a discount to the heavy workload he’s likely to see as a sophomore.
So to buy TJ Yeldon, you don’t have to believe he’s good, because he’s not priced at “good” prices. In a recent RotoViz writers dynasty mock I was able to draft him at 4.11, which given his age, pedigree and workload should really only be possible if Yeldon is bad. Which he might be. But it’s too early to tell if he’s good or bad at this point in his career, so target the 225 pound, 22 year old, three-down workhorse and figure the rest out later.
6 – Fooled by Belichick
Predicting the New England game plan is always a fool’s errand, but I definitely got it wrong last week when I said:
As for Blount, I don’t think much changes for him. If you’ll recall, in Week 7 when Lewis was out Blount saw three carries and zero targets, while White saw 5 targets and a healthy 6.6 receiving EP. As always, expect the Patriots’ RB usage to be game plan specific. If owners in your league are more interested in Blount post-Lewis injury, I’d consider selling.
Welp, that didn’t pan out. LeGarrette Blount posted 15.6 rushing EP in Week 10, leading all RBs. Which, maybe we can chalk up to a run heavy game plan and/or the loss of Julian Edelman. But it’s a lot harder to explain Blount’s role in the passing game, where Blount accounted for 51 percent of the receiving EP to RBs and performed adequately. Yes, it was only on two targets. But Blount entered the week with only three targets on the season, so given the recent losses to the Patriots’ passing game, Blount’s involvement as a pass catcher is definitely something to monitor going froward.
It’s hard to say how to play it with Blount. He has nice match-ups over the next two weeks, but then things take a turn, with NE facing the most difficult schedule for RBs from Weeks 13-16. And then you also have to factor in that predicting the Patriots RB usage is notoriously difficult. Personally, I think Blount is a hold.4 And hopefully he has another big game or two that opens up a sell window before the difficult stretch run.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Adrian Peterson
30 year-old Adrian Peterson had a 200 yard rushing day on Sunday, producing 14.7 FPOE on 26 rushing attempts. I haven’t written much about Peterson this season, mostly because he’s been a fairly straight forward fantasy asset. Peterson is producing solid but not great efficiency on a good but not elite workload. But things have picked up for Peterson recently with three straight 100 plus yard games and four straight games of 95 plus.
Unfortunately for Peterson, the Vikings schedule gets a lot tougher going forward. From Weeks 1-10 the Vikings had the second most favorable schedule for RBs. But that flips in Weeks 13-16, when the Vikings will have the second most difficult schedule during the time it matters most for fantasy owners.
Given Peterson’s status as one of the last highly drafted RBs still standing and his recent play, you can probably get quite a bit for him via trade. And given his playoff schedule, this is probably the time to get it.
Receiving: Matt Jones
My roommate and I have a weekly tradition where he asks me if he should play “bench player x” over “starter y,” I say no, and then Mr. X has himself a huge game. This week, “bench player x” was “M. Jones” (who I honestly assumed was Marvin Jones until the grumpy texts started rolling in). But despite being on the literal Washington bench to start the game, Matt Jones kept the tradition alive by turning three targets into three receptions, 131 yards and a TD for 18.3 receiving FPOE.
The issue for Jones this season has, and will likely continue to be, a lack of consistent workload. For the season, Jones is 42nd in combined EP per game, while Chris Thompson is 39th and “starter” Alfred Morris is 53rd. He’s not someone I’ll be willing to trust going forward unless something changes.
However, if the Jones owner in your dynasty league isn’t acutely aware that Alfred Morris is an unrestricted free agent in 2016, you should absolutely be looking to acquire him. Jones has shown well this season, and could be a highly productive lead back by this time next season.
Combined Efficiency: Jeremy Langford
“M. Jones” was actually the week’s most efficient overall RB, but as nearly all of his efficiency was through the air, let’s highlight runner up Jeremy Langford who turned 20 attempts and nine targets into 16.6 FPOE. This is now Langford’s second highly efficient week in a row, as last week he was eighth in combined FPOE with 7.8 FPOE on 18 attempts and 4 targets. In fact, Langford is second only to Karlos Williams over the last two weeks.
Langford’s efficiency is firmly in unsustainable territory, but it’s still very important because the man he’s been filling in for has been so inefficient all season. Among RBs with at least 50 opportunities, Matt Forte is 50th in FPOE. So what incentive does 4-5 Chicago have to play 29 year-old, currently injured, impending free agent Matt Forte over tearing the league up, 23 year-old rookie Jeremy Langford? None. But they’re coached by Jon Fox so they’ll probably do it anyway.
At the very least I don’t see any way that Forte can maintain the 16.8 combine EP per game that he was seeing before his injury. So unless Forte can unexpectedly add some efficiency whenever he comes back from his knee injury, his owners are likely to feel the reduction of the NFL’s second highest workload to what could be more of a lead back in a committee type role.